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by Kenneth R. Smith

Ken Smith hosts the popular website as well as the online tournament community at  Considered one of the best tournament players in the country, he has appeared on TV in GSN's World Series of Blackjack 2004 and 2005, the Las Vegas Hilton Million Dollar Championship II finals, and is also featured in the Ultimate Blackjack Tour airing on CBS & WGN.  You can subscribe to his free email newsletter at

In the month of May I attended only two tournament events, one in Laughlin and the other in Tulsa, Oklahoma. However, in just those two events, I was able to play a total of fifty tables of tournament blackjack. These tournament series are part of a new breed of tournament event, where multiple events are held on consecutive days at the same venue. It's an idea whose origin goes back a few years in a slightly different form.

For a long time, the standard Vegas tournament circuit revolved around the "triathlon" of tournament blackjack. Back in the 90s, whenever the Stardust scheduled one of its popular events it was also common for the Riviera (across the street) and the New Frontier (next door) to schedule blackjack tournaments in the days following the Stardust event. That was a great idea, because it insured a much higher turnout at the Riv and the Frontier than they could have produced with stand-alone events. And for the many tournament players who were flying in to play in the Stardust, it meant that they could extend their trip for a few more days and have more playing opportunities.

Sadly, all three of the former triathlon events are no more. The Stardust was imploded earlier this year, and although the Riviera and New Frontier are still standing, neither has blackjack tournaments now. Never fear though, as two new tournament series have sprung up that can deliver the same concentration of tournament action.

Starting on May 10th in Laughlin, the fledgling Tournament Blackjack Players Association held their inaugural event at the River Palms casino. Rick Jensen has been working for a while now on this concept of the TBJPA. He hopes to hold mid-size tournament events at multiple locations around the country. What makes this event similar to the old triathlon is that the TBJPA held three separate tournaments on three consecutive days. Add in the frequent availability of Sit and Go tournaments at the location, and you'll see how this is one-stop shopping for the tournament fanatic.

Attendance was lower than hoped for the inaugural event, but that didn't stop those who attended from having a great time. I'm confident that future events will have a lot more players now that the word has gotten out about how smoothly the first events came off. The registration for each of the three events hovered around 40 players, and with rebuys included, the prize pools weren't bad.

Friday May 11th, an event sponsored by

Entry fee: $150+$15, Prize pool $8775, first place won by Eric L for $3115.

Saturday May 12th, the first TBT (Tournament Blackjack Tour) event:

Prize pool $300+$30, Prize pool $15,150, first place won by "Rebuy" Bob Swanson for $5378.

Sunday, May 13th, an event sponsored by this newsletter

Entry Fee: $150+$15, Prize pool $7650, first place won by Fred I for $2716.

Note that an additional $40 fee paid to TBJPA was required from all participants in Laughlin, which covered all three events.

In addition, there were Sit and Go events held starting on Thursday and continuing whenever possible through the weekend.

All in all, I ended up playing 9 SnGs, and I played 21 tables in the multi-table events. (I rebought more times than I hoped, but I also advanced into the semifinals in the main event.)

I went home for only a week, and then I headed out for another batch of "immersion blackjack" at Cherokee Casino in Tulsa Oklahoma. Tournament director Eric Woods at Cherokee has created a really nice slate of events that he hopes to hold three or four times a year. The initial events were held back in February to great acclaim, and the May events drew a 32% increase in attendance. I expect these to continue to grow.

The Cherokee events started on Sunday night, May 20th, and extended for a whole week, with the last event taking place on Sunday May 27th. In addition, every afternoon from 12 to 5, the casino offered Sit and Go events. Like Laughlin, this is a great way to play a lot of blackjack in a short period of time. Over the course of my week in Tulsa, I played a total of 29 tables of tournament blackjack, including 11 SnGs. I had a decent week, winning money in the SnGs, and also final-tabling the main event: the Scotty Nguyen Blackjack Classic. I had a great shot at winning it, at least it seemed so on the next to last hand. I had a large enough bet working to take the lead, but my 20 pushed, and I went into the last hand in third place instead of first. I took the straight low on the final hand, which is a little unusual for me. I needed the dealer to make a strong hand and wipe out the table. Instead, she busted and I dropped to fifth place.

The Cherokee events are unusual in that the casino adds money to every tournament. They added 10% in every event, and $15,000 in the main event. All told, the prize pools for the week in Tulsa were well over $100,000.

I highly recommend both of these events. The next ones are slated for August 15-18 for the TBJPA back at River Palms in Laughlin, and the next Cherokee events aren't firmed up yet, but are expected in late October or early November. Come on out and play. You'll get plenty of practice, and there's plenty of money to be won.

I'll leave you with a short tournament teaser, from a hand I misplayed in Laughlin. Here was the situation:

Last hand, two advance but one player was already unreachable. Therefore, I'll only describe me and the other player fighting for second place, and treat it as one advance.

Betting limits are $5 to $200 in $5 increments. I'm trailing badly and must bet and act first.

Bank Bet Cards

Me $410 $200 BJ

Opponent $620 $150 T9

Dealer has a 4 up.

The question here is do I take the pat blackjack and hope the dealer pushes or beats my opponent, or should I double the blackjack instead?

I should have gotten this one right, but I didn't. I stood with the blackjack, when doubling is a far superior play here. Doubling gives me a 51.5% chance of winning the round, while standing is a poor 35%. Ouch! That's an expensive mistake. If you're wondering, yes, my opponents 19 won and I was eliminated.

If I had taken my time and considered the dealer totals that would help me, I could have easily come to the right decision. With a 4 up, if I stand I need the dealer to make 19, 20, or 21. When the dealer has a bust card up, the chance of him making any particular total is roughly 11% to 12%. Since I have three favorable dealer outcomes, this leads to an estimate of 33% to 36% success by standing (the actual number was 35%). It's pretty easy to see that doubling a blackjack against a dealer 4 will be better than that.

Here's hoping you don't make a mistake like that anytime soon.

I'll see you at a final table,



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